17

“Mindscape of the 21st Century”

Korean Contemporary Art Group Exhibition

Artists: Eemyun Kang, Hayoung Kim, Hyuk Kwon, Junghyun Yoo

Curator: Heejin No (Bright Treasure Art Projects, London)

“Mindscape of the 21st Century” focuses on the visual presentation of mind-map of artists of what Korean Contemporary Art is in the millennium. In the Western concept ‘mind’ is inner-activities happening in your brain or head but in the Eastern concept; ‘mind’ is inner activities happening both in your head and heart.

Therefore this group exhibition is very much about what Korean artists think and feel.

Korean art boasts over 5000 year’s history. The traditional craftsmanship and philosophy in art making are still descended to the contemporary art.

Unlike other emerging contemporary art sectors in Asia such as Chinese, Japanese and Indian, one cannot find it easy to recognize or identify Korean contemporary art as the styles and practices are so diverse. Partially, it is due to individual characteristics of Korean people preferring secluded art making environment in pursuing uniqueness among the peer group.

In this exhibition, the four artists, Eemyun Kang (b.1981), Hayoung Kim (b.1983), Hyuk Kwon (b.1966) and Junghyun Yoo (b.1973) represent different types of “Koreaness” in their thoughts and creation behind their art works. They all had education and experiences in different countries such as USA, Germany and the UK. All of them are from different age groups who experienced the different face of Korean society in their teens and 20s during the country’s ever fast growing economy in 80s, 90s and the new millennium. As the country’s economic status grew steeply, its social and traditional norms have also changed dramatically.

Kang’s work is based on mythologies intermingled with her contemporary imagination which is sometimes politically pungent with vigorous brush strokes and vivid colors. Kim’s work represents the fragility and delicateness of youth, however, the inner energy that supports the artist to stand and move on. Kwon is an international traveler and has conducted several interactive projects in many countries. The idea comes from very traditional Korean motifs, but the result is visually diverse and engaging. Especially, her installation and painting works are from the year-long “Nanuda” (which means to share or divide or Chinese 8 八) project. Lastly, Yoo’s work has soothing effect as the process of her painting has a lot to do with oriental goodness of ‘patience’ and ‘modest’. The deepest essence is unavoidably the goodness of “Confucius” philosophies especially for Yoo and Kwon.

The greatest aim of this exhibition is to share the idea and visual activities practiced by young Korean artistic thinkers to the citizen of Shanghai and other international communities.

“Mindscape of the 21st Century”- Korean Contemporary Art

By Heejin No

This exhibition focuses on the visual presentation of the mind-map of artists of what Korean Contemporary Art is in the millennium. In the Western concept ‘mind’ is inner-activities happening in your brain or head but in the Eastern concept; ‘mind’ is inner activities happening both in your head and heart.

Therefore this group exhibition is very much about what Korean artists think and feel.

Korean art boasts over 5000 years of history. The traditional craftsmanship and philosophy in art making are still descending to contemporary art.

Unlike other emerging contemporary art sectors in Asia such as Chinese, Japanese and Indian, one cannot find it easy to recognize or identify Korean contemporary art as the styles and practices are so diverse. Partially, it is due to individual characteristics of Korean people preferring secluded art making environment in pursuing uniqueness among the peer group.

The group of four artists presented here are Eemyun Kang (b.1981), Hayoung Kim (b.1983), Lydia Hyuk Kwon (b.1966) and Junghyun Yoo (b.1973). They represent different types of “Koreaness” through their thoughts and creative methods behind their art works. They all had education and experiences in different countries such as USA, Germany and the UK. All of them are from different age groups who experienced the different face of Korean society in their teens and 20s during the country’s ever fast growing economy in 80s, 90s and the new millennium. As the country’s economic status grew steeply, its social and traditional norms have also changed dramatically.

From the generation born in 60’s, they have been relatively well educated and brought up by growing social welfare and family support in average in comparison to our war experienced and post-war generation. However, the way of thinking and understanding the world and the society they belong to is very different.

As the exhibition is composed of artists from different career stages and social position, it might look too obvious in what would be different between them. However, what they have believed and learnt are shared between them as well.

Hayoung Kim is the youngest in this group and probably the most untamed. Kim’s work represents the fragility and delicateness of youth from a glance at intricate combination of unknown creatures. However, one can see the artist’s studious research and accumulated knowledge on biology and anatomy. To Kim, it is essential to know and to study the mechanism of genes, cells, organs, blood vessels and anatomies to understand how fragile creatures survive and live. Many of her work show extremely fragile, vulnerable and helpless little things and situations. In huge contrast, the artist also tells inner energy and strength that these things stand and survive for. These typical weak but strong contradictory creatures are very well represented in her triptych “Micro energy 1, 2, 3”. In “Perceived sensation” and “Inner fluidity”, the artist expressed ‘chemical reaction’ inside a human body toward external interaction received through an outer human body. If the former works are the result of the artist’s anatomical observation on her emotion, “Inner Microcosm” is that of her mental process.

Also, the other impressive development that the artist works through is meticulous etching study, “Life” series. Although the “Life” series look more classical, the dysfunctional shapes of trees and organs have some addition such as airy vibration or sky-facing sprouts that keeps them alive or gives them new form of energy to survive.

In the end, it is the artist herself who should stand and move on through learning the ‘world’ and rearranging survival methods created in Kim’s art.

Eemyun Kang’s work is based on ancient stories intermingled with her contemporary imagination. It is important to see the body of works presented here to oversee her development into “FungalLand” (2006) and “Metamorphosis” (2008) series which continues to be currently progressing series, “Becoming” (2009). The most significant subjects in Kang’s work are Korean mythologies, landscapes, and current political issues.

Among the presented works of Kang for this exhibition, “TurtleLand” is the necessary preliminary stage toward “FungalLand” series and the artist’s recent development.

Small works such as “Turtle” and “Fungal man in the fungal land” show us very well about Kang’s original thoughts and central creative source for future works.

“Waving souls” and “Holding my heart” are particularly notable not only for her vigorous and energetic brush strokes and vibrant palettes but also for expressing her internal and external sentiments. Kang executed “Waving souls” after the memorable disaster in Tsunami to tribute to those who lost their beloved ones and those who lost their lives. Lastly, “Holding my heart” is very rare to Eemyun Kang as it is exceptionally emotional painting with deeply penetrating colours and poignantly brushed strokes as if there are stories untold compared to Kang’s other works.

Junghyun Yoo is a master of visualizing the sense of pain, emotion and any internal sensations happening to us. Her work started from painting small babies as a representative of vulnerability with horribly layered skins which in result was visually beautiful and highly aesthetic in contrast to the subject. The artist explains that her foreign position in Berlin and her fear as a destined artist which she cannot avoid other than any different way of living are why the artist started to paint layered skins that eventually would disappear. This process has been developed into “Shape of the moon” series. In this “Dark flowers” series, the thin layer still remains but it is more singular rather than multiple and she maps out the Moon that is significantly symbolic as night, calmness, yin, female beauty, and spiritual energy to her culture.

Contrary to its zen and simplistic beauty, the work requires highly skillful techniques to achieve such effects. The liberal composition of smudge, drips and stokes are due to the artist’s very controlled and calculated movement as a masterpiece oriental ink painting comes only from endless practice and spiritual concentration in spite of its simplistic appearance.

Unlike her three paintings from that period showing in this show, her most recent painting, “Crossing” employs more colours and shapes. It is not surprising to find out that the artist had her first child recently and this event strikes her toward immense joy and happiness that opens new era for her artistic life.

Having been the pursuer of avant-garde innovation in the past art practice, Lydia Hyuk Kwon’s work is derived from the intensive travelling and engaging with the global citizens. Her strong belief in art as ‘to share the invisible spiritual energy’ are well explained in her main method and artistic usage of ‘weaving and sewing threads’ which symbolise connections and lines of energy surrounding us. Especially, the body of work and installation showing in this exhibition is the result from a year-long “八; Nanuda” project (which means to share or divide or Chinese 8 八). Her question starts from ‘if visual language is universal, how people different from my culture would react toward the very traditional Korean patterns?’ She chose two Korean traditional patterns which are symbolically oriental and designed thousands years ago therefore very much dissolved in Korean sentiment for ever. However these are completely unknown to people whom she met and the artist intended not to reveal the names or meanings of those patterns that are in her perception. Therefore, the artist can discover what other people would perceive in different or similar ways as she would have.

In processing the project, she made piles of small fabric works printed with these ‘unknown patterns’ which are understood as ‘Dragon’ or ‘Lotus’ to some of us.

She gave these little hand-made art works to the citizen she met in San Francisco, Melbourne, London and Seoul which will be also distributed to visitors of the gallery in Shanghai. In return, she asks participants to give their ideas of what they imagine from the patterns. She interviewed many people and shared ideas and thoughts.

As a result, she selected 250 words or phrases of what those people said or wrote to her and executed impressive wall installation of “250 inspired words” and reconstruction of symbolic patterns she initiated for the project, “Inspired code 1, 2” series as well as panorama of video work that matches with participants’ answers.

She realised fascinating truth about the power of visual languages from this project.

Having found out how differently people would understand about a classical perception to a certain group, she suggests open-mindness and refreshment of our prejudice toward many conventional things that are only slowly being improved even decades after world’s favourite catch-phrase of ‘globalism’.

The outcome of “八; Nanuda” project is interpretation of thoughts and perceptions that she shared with people and presentation of the whole project process.

Noted is, Kwon’s approach toward respecting Korean tradition has been very determined action in advance of conducting the project. The result is not only conceptually engaging and interactive but also visually plausible and aesthetic.

In overview of this group of artists, the underlining fact for Eemyun Kang and Hayoung Kim are youthful expression and the deepest essence is unavoidably the goodness of “Confucius” philosophies especially for Yoo and Kwon.

Prior to opening of the exhibition, I feel grateful that Andrew James Art suggested a group show of ‘distinctive’ young Korean artists and that made me explore and share their creativeness and obsession to ‘what Korean art is’. If it were not the significant iconic group characteristic, it might be ‘mindscape’ weaved behind the art work that makes ‘what Korean art is’.

The greatest aim of creating this exhibition and catalogue is to share the ideas and visual activities practiced by young Korean artistic thinkers to the citizen of Shanghai and other international communities.

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